I’ve always been jealous of Ben’s teaching schedule. I would jump at the chance to take summers off, if I could do it without the stress and anxiety of having to teach.
For the first time ever, Ben has chosen not to teach summer school or do some sort of school-related enrichment program during his break. Instead, he’s decided to relax, read as much as his heart desires, and participate in a lot of the activities Chicago has to offer.
Luckily, I also benefit from him not working. He completes a lot of the tasks that we’ve put off like straightening up our deck, fixing broken towel racks, and hanging pictures. He also gets groceries, picks up our dry cleaning, and buys household supplies that we need.
Last week, as I was thinking about how nice it is to not have to do these things, it made me wonder about how to value that stay-at-home spouse. We often have to place a dollar figure on that person when considering how much maternity leave to take, whether a parent should stay home with the kids, or determining how much life insurance to purchase.
I know we tend to take their contributions for granted and undervalue their services. In a survey done by Insure.com, 43% of respondents thought a stay-at-home mom should earn under $50,000, while its index showed the market value of those skills is actually $65, 284.
So today I want to explore the considerations to make when calculating the value of a stay-at-home spouse, especially when his or her contributions can’t be quantified by a corresponding salary.
The Cost of the Tasks They Complete
This method seems the easiest to start with since the cost of the alternative can be calculated fairly easily. In fact sites like Insure.com and Salary.com have done it for you. In Salary.com’s latest survey, it calculated the number of hours (including overtime) worked for specific tasks and found that if stay-at-home moms were paid a salary for what they do, they would earn $118,905. The site even breaks down the value of working moms, who would make $70,107 on top of their actual salary.
You can also do this calculation yourself. For example, if you would have to pay $1,500 per month in childcare, not having that costs would theoretically be worth $1,500. You would have to weigh that against what that person brings home from his or her job. I most commonly see this balancing approach when weighing whether a spouse should stay home. However, you should consider a couple of other things.
Time is Money
I’ve written a few times about weighing the opportunity costs of completing a task yourself or paying someone else to do it. We could probably learn to do a lot of the tasks that we pay others to do in our daily lives – fix our plumbing, do our taxes, or cook an exquisite meal. But the time and effort isn’t worth what paying someone else who specializes in that activity could do much better and more efficiently.
So in order to monetize the value of a stay-at home spouse, you have to consider the tasks that they do, as well as the quality and efficiency of completing those tasks. Specifically, figure out what you would pay a person to complete a task in a specific amount of time. And then compare how long would it take the stay-at-home spouse to do that same task (if he or she could do it at all). For instance, if you would pay someone $80 to clean your house in an hour and a half and it takes your spouse who could earn $20/hour three hours, you still come out ahead.
The Value of Your Sanity
To me this is where the value of someone’s time and effort gets tricky. Whether you can complete a task in the same time and quality of someone else you would pay, it may cost you the joy and satisfaction of doing something else. Again, this is where opportunity costs play a crucial role in your determination. Maybe the joy of staying home and seeing your child change everyday outweighs the amount of money any high-stress, corporate job can pay you. On the other hand, the satisfaction of working in a career that you love may outweigh the extra cost of a nanny who helps you out. Only you can place a true value on your sanity. And whatever value you place on it, you can likely adjust your lifestyle to fit those expectations.
There’s no doubt that this type of analysis is tough . I know several readers are currently trying to determine how long to stay home with a newborn. While it’s never an easy decision, I hope these considerations can add some substance to a complicated analysis.